I'm not sure if you've heard of Belle Femme authors ( a group of very talented authors) awesome reader-author gathering in San Antonio, Texas known as Wild Wicked Weekend. If you haven't, consider going next year. It is coming up again in February but I'm told it's pretty much sold out. It's held at the historic and haunted, yes, haunted Menger Hotel, which is so close to The Alamo, you can literally look out a window and see the infamous site. If you were to travel back in time, and who wouldn't want to, it's likely that the hotel sits right on the actual grounds. When you walk around San Antonio, you're probably walking where William Travis and Jim Bowie (who was gravely ill at the time of the siege) had given their lives for a cause they believed just.
It's no wonder the hotel and the grounds are said to be haunted. Last year, I saw Sally White, I've no doubt about this, but someone else's version may vary. During WWW last February, one of the authors attending found a hidden compartment in her room. That, for some reason, inspired the story that became Lipstick and Camouflage. And, though it's set in Baltimore (born and raised Marylander, here), and some elements are set in Salem, Massachusetts, I'd wondered what would happen if an innocent hotel guest were to inadvertently take something home with them and end up in an assassin's path without realizing it.
I happen to love history and The Alamo, especially William Travis' story, also resonated with me and I decided to create a hero named after him, thus I went with Travis. I won't give away the ending of Lipstick and Camouflage, but let me say, you might see elements of The Alamo and The Menger Hotel pop up!
That said, I recently shared an excerpt from Lipstick and Camouflage, and wanted to add a little more romantic one. Here it is! Enjoy!
Lipstick and Camouflage
Brandt’s Dozen: Book One
Security specialist Travis Blake’s undercover assignment should be easy. The former Navy SEAL has to protect Cassidy O'Neal from an elusive assassin. Yet, nothing about this case is simple.
For Cassidy, it’s easier to believe in ghosts than to think she’s in danger. .Despite a series of unusual happenings around her apartment that make her feel uneasy, she has no idea her hot new neighbor is far more than he seems.
What starts off as simple flirtation quickly turns passionate. But, as danger intensifies, more than just their hearts are on the line. Travis must do whatever it takes to protect Cassidy, including revealing who he really is.
“I, umm, think this is where I should go back to my dorm,” Justin suddenly decided, pushing his paper plate aside. “I’m sorry, Cass, didn’t know I was interrupting a date.”
“You didn’t interrupt anything,” she reassured.
“Yep, you can say that. You’re not getting the stink eye from your neighbor. Who, by the way, can kick my ass from here to UMBC and back again. I’ll make myself scarce.”
“At least take another slice of pizza,” Cassidy offered.
“I’ve had enough, thanks.” Justin stood up, went to the family room and grabbed his hoodie.
“What do I owe you for the food?” Travis got up, walking over to Justin, his hand in his back pocket. The two talked quietly and Travis pulled out his wallet, handing Justin money.
Shortly, Justin turned back, thanked her for dinner, and whispered, “I’m sorry,” as he left.
“He could’ve stayed,” Cassidy said after Travis closed and locked the door. “I’ll call him tomorrow and make sure he got back to the dorm okay.”
“Sorry about that, Travis. I honestly wasn’t expecting him,” she said softly, her cheeks heating up.
“No need to apologize,” Travis replied. “What’s the matter?”
Cassidy pushed back from the table and stood, suddenly feeling as if she was being interrogated. Then again, he’d been part of Special Forces. He was trained to look dangerous when he needed to be.
“It’s a little embarrassing,” she confessed. “The other night, he asked me out.”
“Why’s that embarrassing?” Travis questioned.
“Because he’s my brother’s best friend,” Cassidy said. “Have to admit, I’m glad he came over, if only to make things right, I just didn’t want you to think I was a cougar or something.”
“I wasn’t worried about that. I’m wondering why you can’t see that Justin likely asked you out because you’re an attractive woman, more so, why you’re embarrassed.”
“Honestly, it’s been so long since I’ve gone on an actual date that I was tempted to accept just so I didn’t have to rely on a book boyfriend for a night. Why? Are you thinking about asking me out?”
Cassidy stopped cleaning up the table and looked across the room. Travis remained by the door, but his intensity increased, seeming to be zeroed in on her, even her slight movements drawing his eye.
“I’d like to, but I can’t, not yet,” he answered.
“Why, is there something wrong with me?”
“No, this is all on me. After getting shot, I needed to reevaluate things, make changes. If my dojo doesn’t succeed, I’ll either go back to Texas or my old job in Virginia.”
Drawn to look back at him, Cassidy shifted around, watching him jerk his shirt down his left shoulder, revealing a still angry-looking scar about the size of a quarter. Jesus, if that bullet had gone a little more to the right, if he’d not worn a protective vest, he could’ve been shot through the heart.
Feeling as if a balloon had just popped in her chest, Cassidy found herself rubbing her sternum to ward off the pain. It made absolutely no sense that she was suddenly afraid for him. After all, she and Travis met a few hours ago. The trauma with Mr. Milner and the elevator must’ve created a false sense of attachment to him.
“You’re right, it’s best we stay friends,” she said, breaking eye contact with him to continue stacking paper plates and tossing crumpled napkins on top.
Funny, she did such a good job of ignoring him, she hadn’t heard him move. It wasn’t until his big hand gently circled her wrist, turning her so she’d face him.
“SEAL training kicking in, Hero?” she dared, though she wasn’t quite able to look at him.
“That’s something I’d never forget,” he whispered, his mouth almost touching her ear. His other hand went to her waist, slipping around to the small of her back, making her feel tiny, protected, soft, and girly.
“What do you want?” she suddenly demanded, his mixed signals confusing her.
“I think you know the answer,” he murmured, his lips brushing her earlobe. “You felt what happened when you were on top of me earlier, didn’t you?”
“Yes, you got an erection. It’s a natural physical reaction. I was turned on, too, same reason. Nothing more, nothing less, I get it.”
“Do you? Because it’s more than physical, that’s the God’s honest truth.”
Cassidy shook her head, still confused by how easy it was to be this close to him, to feel his incredible heat, his strength, to smell his clean male scent, everything. Even now, she could feel the throb of his hardness brushing close, so damn close, to her apex between her thighs. It was temptation incarnate, something she didn’t want to ignore.
“Is it the ghost hunting that’s turning you off? If that’s your hang up, get over yourself.”
“Does it feel like I’m turned off right now?” he countered, shifting until his thigh slipped between her legs. “Honestly, I’ve no idea if there are ghosts or what goes into finding them, maybe you can teach me. As it is, I’m hard as a spike.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, you came to me just now, not the other way around,” she said.
“Don’t you understand? You’re the kind of woman a man keeps for himself,” he said, easing off slightly only to catch her chin in his big hand and bring her face upward. “Me? I could be here for a while or gone tomorrow, there’s no way to know yet. You deserve more than that, more than sex.”
“Maybe sex is all I want, ever think of that? You seem like the kind of guy who can give a woman a good time in bed, without unrealistic expectations afterwards.”
Trying to toss her head, to dislodge him, anything, Cassidy only managed to shift his hand until he stroked her face, gently, sweetly. This wasn’t the touch of a man out to seduce or conquer. It was the caress of a lover, of someone who cared.
“Darlin’, you’re sweet-natured and maybe too trusting for your own good, but I’d never suspect you were a liar.”
“Fine, you’re right,” she said. “But I’m not begging you to stay either, nor will I, ever.”
“Fair enough,” he replied. “Tell me to go, slap me if you need to.”
“I don’t want to slap you.” What did she want? She wanted him, same as he claimed to want her. It was crazy, but there it was.
“Ah, to hell with why I shouldn’t do this,” he said, his head bending toward her a second before she closed her eyes and his lips touched hers, briefly, as if he thought she might shove him away.
Instead, her arms went up, wrapping around his big, broad shoulders, her fingers lacing behind his neck. Next thing she knew, he swept her up close, his mouth increasing pressure against hers, his tongue slipping between her lips, entering, dueling with hers.
Cassidy had never, ever experienced a sexier kiss. The brush of his trimmed beard tickled, enhancing their differences. He was hard, strong, sexy, tasted incredibly masterful yet she wasn’t afraid or intimidated. She felt desired, soft, and feminine.
All she really knew in that moment was that this was Travis Blake, the man who’d come to her aid twice in one day, like a guardian angel. With him, she felt safe, even though his kiss rocked her world, tilting it right on its axis.